We awoke this morning to warm coffee and a radio call by the Thea crew announcing our first bear sighting of the trip! Tucked into Snug Cove’s winding coastline are grassy flats that animals such as the brown bear population on Admiralty Island like to take advantage of during both dusk and dawn to do their most undisturbed and incognito shoreline snacking. As the day warmed up, we got a large crew together to explore the exposed tide pools and shallow creek-like runs off from a small emptying bay.
Snug Cove is located on the eastern side of the Admiralty Island, and the island itself is almost cut entirely in two by the Seymour Canal. The island is 90 miles long and 35 miles wide, making it the seventh largest island in the United States and the 132nd largest island in the world. Almost 2,000 square miles of this island are protected as the Admiralty Island Nation Monument administered by the Tongass National Forest management teams. This national monument is considered a very sacred space to the Angoon Tribe of the Tlingit people, as the island is currently home to a traditional Tlingit community of over 500 individuals, and they continue to engage in stewardship of the island’s natural resources after preservation of the land passed through legislation.
As we trekked along near Church Point, our first findings were signs of river otter run activity; small trails from these animals running from the water to the forested areas. Spending time within the patch of trees, we found a winding community of small dens, home to the local river otter communities. Even in such a small space under the treescapes we found the natural world around us to be ever so alive. From mushrooms around every corner to curiosities of a what we thought were a sighting of normal pinecones, we quickly identified them as a parasitic ground cone, a very rare find, and were on high alert to soak up as much of these incredible finds as we possibly could.
The trickling of an emptying bay at low tide offered us a myriad of incredible marine critters to observe. Getting low to the water line and watching all the life teeming below the surface was an experience most of us agreed we could exist in forever. From Giant Sea stars to Burrowing Sea cucumbers every few inches, we watched small critters like hermit crabs and sea snails move around their rocky intertidal zone’s vast mountainous like terrain.
One of our favorite finds of the day was a delicate lace like coil of Nudibranch eggs! Nudibranchs are a type of sea slug that have an external branched respiratory system, earning the name “nudi”, translating to naked and “branch”, translating to lung. Often you can identify the species of nudibranch just by the intricacies of their egg ribbons. The ribbon we spotted was a matrix of thousands of Sea Lemon Nudibranch eggs. Sea lemons can vary in the color, from a pale yellow to a vivid yellow, and even a dark orange. Rather than just the color coining their name, they have also been known to omit a fruity smell when disturbed that is thought to be detouring to predators.
As we perused the Sea stars scattered among the shallow bay, we were among the most vibrant Giant Stars, and the decadently blue Mottled Stars. Alongside the Giant Star pictured above, there are a handful of Sea urchins utilizing rocks and abandoned shells to protect themselves from hungry critters taking advantage of the low waters looking to snag a quick intertidal snack. Some researchers have theorized that these critters will hold on to material from the benthic zone to keep them from being tossed around by adverse water conditions during tidal changes, but with very little water movement and the tide reaching slack, we were all on the same page for these rocks acting as protection, and amazed at the invertebrate’s ability to problem solve survival so effectively.
One of our last curious finds of the day was an expansive community of bright pink parasitic Pacific Coralroots we came across tucked away in the forest, adjacent to our earlier find of river otter dens! These organisms are a species of Coralroot orchids that are native to North America, deemed parasitic due to the inability to photosynthesize on their own having no leaves to do so themselves. They earned their names given they have no classic root systems like plants, but rather, hard branched rhizomes that resemble coral and receive their nutrients from ground soil fungi.
Back at our vessels and soaking in the last of the day, many of us hopped in our kayaks or took a spin in our dinghies as the sun sank behind the peaks atop Admiralty Island. Today’s adventures were very rich in observation and investigation, and it’s always fun to explore new locations with a group of people who are all just as excited to be present in the inspection as they are in finding the incredible critters and organisms that are unveiled in the process.
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